At just 5'8" and weighing only 145 pounds, Manuel Estiarte would seem to be an unlikely candidate to be considered the greatest player of all-time in a sport whose players average 6'3” and 200+ pounds. But Estiarte's career proved once again that it's not the size of the man, but the size of his heart and what's in the head that counts the most.
Born in Manresa, Spain, in 1961, Estiarte began playing water polo as soon as he could swim. At the Barcelona Swimming Club (BSC), he was identified as a water polo prodigy. He was 15 years old when he made his international debut, and within three years he was the top scorer at the Moscow Olympics in 1980.
He repeated as the leading scorer at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 with a record 34 goals as the Most Outstanding Player of the Games. He led all players in scoring again at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul with 26 goals.
In 1992, Estiarte became a national hero after leading Spain to its first-ever Olympic medal - silver - in their host city of Barcelona. But finishing the Games as top scorer again was little comfort following a dramatic gold medal final against Ratko Rudic's Italian team. Estiarte converted a penalty 42 seconds from full time to put Spain ahead, but nine seconds later Italy equalized and went on to win in extra time.
Four years later, in Atlanta, Spain and Estiarte were once again in the Olympic final, but this time the result was different. With ten seconds left to play and Spain up 7- 5 against Croatia, Estiarte took possession.
"I've dreamt of this moment all my life," he said afterwards. "The last ten seconds of the Olympic final, I have the ball and Spain wins the gold medal. I waited five Olympics, but it finally happened."
All totaled, in a career that spanned over two decades, he competed in more Olympic Games (six) and scored more than any other player in Olympic history (127). He competed in over 578 international games for Spain, scoring over 600 goals. For many years, he played in the Italian Professional League with Club Pescara and won a water polo grand slam of four European Championships. In 1998, he was voted Best Player of the Perth World Championships.
Following his retirement after the Sydney Games he served as a member of the International Olympic Committee Athletes Commission until 2004.
“I had the privilege to take part in six Olympic Games, and in each one of them I felt emotions too special to be described. From the first, when I was just a young man, to the last, where I won and I had the honour of carrying my homeland's flag."